European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, right, and Serbia's president Boris Tadic
The European Union has granted Serbia membership candidate status, citing the country's improved ties with Kosovo.
The 27 EU leaders announced their decision at Thursday's summit in Belgrade.
European Council Herman Van Rompuy calls it a remarkable achievement for Serbia — a country that was bombed by NATO forces just 13 years ago because of its war against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian separatists.
European Council President Van Rompuy: "We agreed tonight to grant Serbia the status of EU candidate country. This is a remarkable achievement, a result of the efforts demonstrated by both sides in the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. I hope it will encourage Serbia to undertake further efforts in order to meet the political and economic criteria for EU membership. It is also my hope that Belgrade will continue to support to regional cooperation and good neighborly relations in the western Balkans.''
Serbian President Boris Tadic says membership status should open the door to economic progress and prosperity for Serbia. He said potential membership is a guarantee that Serbia is a safe place for foreign investors.
Serbia has been striving to join the European Union for years. But EU leaders had demanded more cooperation from the Serbs on capturing fugitive war criminals and improving relations with Kosovo.
Over the last three years, Serbian police captured the two most wanted indicted war crimes suspects Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.
While Serbia staunchly refuses to recognize Kosovo's independence, it settled a long-standing border dispute with Kovoso last week.
Entry into the EU takes years and it is unclear when Serbia will be ready for membership.